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Dillinger (1945)

By the time Monogram released this crime thriller that gave Lawrence Tierney his first starring role, the real life Public Enemy Number 1, John Dillinger, had been dead 11 years. Famously shot down outside the Biograph Theater after seeing the Clark Gable film, Manhattan Melodrama, with the “woman in red” on his arm.

Clocking in at a fast paced seventy minutes from director Max Nosseck, Tierney does well in the lead role though the story of the notorious bank robber is a long way from the events unfolding as I know them based on my own reading up on the subject over a number of years. That’s mainly because I had seen the legendary Warren Oates take on the role years ago as a teen and the real life story of Dillinger and other 1930’s gangsters intrigued me then and still do to this day.

Our black and white Monogram feature is told via the flashback, newspapers and maps splashed across the screen to keep our story moving along. Tierney is seen boozing it up with a babe who eggs him on for more drinks but he’s out of cash. Following this is a classic example of just what we men will do for the lure of cheap women and sex. Tierney walks around a corner to a local smoke shop, robs the place of what little money is in the cash register and promptly walks out the door bumping into an officer on patrol. And with that he’s off to the pen.

It’s here he’ll meet what will eventually become known as the Dillinger gang though none of the actual character names match the ones I’m familiar with. The faces however are a rogue’s gallery of movie mugshots. Edmund Lowe, Elisha Cook Jr. Eduardo Ciannelli and Marc Lawrence are enlisted by the King Brothers who produced the film to portray Tierney’s fellow mobsters. It’s a short stint for Tierney and upon release he’s at it again robbing a movie theater’s box-office. Thankfully the good looking dame behind the glass is excited by the thought of a gangster’s life and when he’s brought in for a police line up, she refuses to identify him as the armed robber. Instead she accepts his offer of a night on the town and that makes it official, she’s now a gangster’s moll.

With music from Dimitri Tiomkin highlighting the film, Tierney busts the gang out of jail and their reign of terror begins. Who is to be top dog is the next issue and when Tierney has ideas of his own it causes a rift between him and Lowe. Stock footage gets inserted of a heist job and the gang retreats to the Little Bohemia Lodge that in real life will serve as one of the major shootouts between the gang and Hoover’s G-Men.

Still to come is the arrest of Dillinger/Tierney and the breakout that followed with the gangster using a toy gun whittled out of wood as a means of escape. Unlike the rebellious folk hero that the Oates film attempts to present, Tierney turns into a mad dog upon his new found freedom and will see his surrounding gang dwindle in numbers and the bounty on his head climb to $15K on the wanted posters around Chicago where he’s taken to hiding out with Anne fronting for him while he lays up in an apartment.

“Watch for the woman in red.”

Like the real life John Dillinger, this above average “B” effort ends at the Biograph though we don’t see any footage of Clark Gable as Blackie Gallagher on screen as we did when Johnny Depp took on the gangster role in the more recent Public Enemies.

Audiences today are more familiar with the elderly Lawrence Tierney for his role as Joe Cabot who puts together the Reservoir Dogs or maybe even his appearance as Elaine’s father on an episode of Seinfeld. Tierney would work with the director Nosseck on a quartet of films including The Hoodlum, Kill or Be Killer and Singing In The Dark. According to the trivia section at the IMDB, there was no love lost between them. Nosseck also directed a nifty “B” thriller titled The Brighton Strangler that I’d easily recommend.

Sure I’ll watch the John Milius / Warren Oates version most any  day of the week before this one again but as a 1945 release, it more than holds it’s own in the gangster genre against much of the Warner Brothers “B” flicks of the late 30’s and early 40’s. All we really needed in here was a Barton MacLane or a Joe Sawyer and one would never know the difference.

Available on the Warner’s home video label.

6 Comments »

  1. Great writeup,Mike, but now I’m vexed as to what to say when I get around to it: you covered it so well. Tierney in real life was a pretty unpleasant hardcase—that very funny stint on “Seinfeld” wasn’t far from the mark. The Milius version takes first prize, no argument. I was pretty disappointed by the Depp take, especially coming from Michael Mann. They all play hell with accuracy. The Biograph scene from “The FBI Story” is kinda cool. Oh, then there’s “Young Dillinger”, which is awful. Any guy that mentions Joe Sawyer in a review gets a free beer in my joint. Hats off, Mark

    • I too have heard Mr. Tierney wasn’t the most pleasant guy. Warren Oates one of those guys that always had me tuning in to late night TV growing up. Big fan! Agree on the Depp/Mann flick. Just made me want to come home and watch the Milius version again. Joe Sawyer born about 30 minutes from here in Guelph Ontario Canada. Suspect not to many there have ever heard of him. Those that recognize him probably don’t know either. I’ll take that beer next time I’m in the area.

  2. I still need to revisit the Oates version. I keep meaning to get to it. It’s been so long it’s gonna be so exciting seeing it again. I will keep an eye out for this early version of the story and thanks for the tip on the Boston Strangler. One I seen on my travels but now I know I need to get on it. Cheers

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